Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where Sound Meets Flexible Electronics

Voice-securing your ATM card. Talking to your newspaper over coffee. Projecting your voice to a room full of people using only a thin, lightweight loudspeaker that fits in your pocket. With new research published last week in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists from Michigan State University and Georgia Institute of Technology has opened the door to these possibilities.


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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Promising Results in Offworld Fertility Experiments

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, no one has had sex in space.

Only one married couple have been on the same mission, the Americans Mark Lee and Jan Davis, and according to NASA, nothing happened. There being no privacy in the space shuttle or the International Space Station, that is likely true.

But with NASA exploring ideas such as two-year voyages to Mars and eventual colonies on Mars and the moon, the question of reproductive safety is important, especially if humans wish to one day travel to the edges of the solar system and even beyond. Can space voyagers conceive healthy human babies?

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Focusing Sound with Metasurfaces: A New Way to Reduce Noise and Power Devices?

Whether it’s the neighbor’s barking dogs, pounding rain, the din of traffic, or the music of your own choosing, most of us are constantly surrounded by noise. Noise is energy, so that means most of us are constantly surrounded by a relatively safe, renewable, and clean form of energy. What if we could harvest this energy?

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Probing Quantum Behavior in a Large-Scale System

Quantum mechanics, it seems, is where physics breaks from making intuitive sense. In the realm of the infinitesimal, particles can be in two places at once, or display the "spooky" properties of entanglement. But it might not have to be that way—a few months ago, the good folks over at Veritasium put out a fantastic video drawing attention to an amazing phenomenon that was only recently discovered: a macroscopic, intuitively friendly system that behaves almost exactly like a quantum-mechanical one. Now, scientists are building on this work, discovering new properties of this system and linking them to their quantum-mechanical counterparts.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Gravity Caught Stretching Quantum Objects

Black holes and quantum mechanics are two of the most intriguing physics topics. Their strange and exotic features certainty capture the imagination. Now, new research in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters brings aspects of the two together in an experiment that shows, for the first time, that gravity stretches and squeezes quantum objects through tidal forces.

A macroscopic quantum state explores curved spacetime.
Image Credit: Peter Asenbaum.


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Friday, May 05, 2017

Self-Folding Structures Inspired by Origami

From the elegant crane to playful flowers, the intricate shapes created with origami are delightful and often astounding. They are also a source of inspiration for scientists. In areas ranging from microelectronics to biomedicine, there is a need for small, complicated three-dimensional objects. Last week in the journal Science Advances, a team of scientists from Georgia Institute of Technology and Peking University shared their work on an origami-inspired technique for creating such structures.

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Monday, May 01, 2017

Using Radio to Detect the Gravitational Waves of Merging Black Holes

The detection of gravitational waves topped nearly every chart highlighting the most important science stories of 2016. LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, made headlines by detecting direct evidence of ripples in spacetime caused by two merging black holes. Historic and exciting, this discovery will probably be the first of many gravitational wave signals we see over the coming years—and not all of them will come from gravitational wave observatories.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Building a Settlement on Mars, Brick-by-Brick

With NASA’s plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s and SpaceX’s plan to send them as early as 2020, things are getting exciting. In just three years, the Mars 2020 astrobiology rover will blast off toward the red planet. While there, the rover will search for signs of life and gather information that will help protect the lives and missions of astronauts during future visits. The European Space Agency, in partnership with Roscosmos State Corporation, will launch the ExoMars rover in 2020 to undertake a similar mission. If SpaceX achieves its goal, humans could be visiting Mars at the same time as these rovers.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Photographers Discover New Pseudo-Aurora, Get to Name the Phenomenon...End Up Calling it "Steve".

A group of "Aurora Chasers" in Canada appear to have stumbled on an extraordinary new astrophysical phenomenon, and—in typical internet fashion—endowed it with an amusingly ordinary name. Don't let the unassuming moniker fool you, though: Steve is a mind-bogglingly powerful event, albeit one that is apparently more common than scientists expected.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Seeing Quadruple, Seeing the Universe More Clearly

An exploding star has astronomers seeing quadruple—and they couldn’t be happier. Today in the AAAS journal Science, an international team of researchers led by Ariel Goobar at Stockholm University presents unique images of a special type of stellar explosion, called a Type 1a supernova, that will offer important new insights into gravity, dark matter, and the acceleration of the universe.


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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

People Power: Getting a Feel for Joules & Watts

This week, we had a reader write in:

Why has no one developed a battery that can be attached to a recumbent bike to gather energy when someone is pedaling? Thousands of hours of manual work is being wasted (not counting the health benefits) 

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TNT-Detecting Bacteria Could Illuminate Landmines

A hidden and indiscriminate threat, landmines injure and kill soldiers, civilians, and even inhabitants of now-peaceful regions every day. It’s impossible to know how many landmines are buried worldwide, but most estimates place the number somewhere between 100 million and 200 million devices. Once planted, landmines remain a threat until they are detected and detonated, a process that can take decades or longer if it is not a high priority in the region. Even when it is a priority, detecting these mines is slow and risky work.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Swirling a Fluid from Within

From churning rapids to Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, there is something about swirling motions that draws people in. The same can’t be said for the large, imposing structures that make up industrial chemical reactors found in water treatment centers and manufacturing plants. However, in some ways the two are closely connected.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

PhysicsCentral Will be Marching for Science...Will You?

Recently, PhysicsCentral’s parent organization endorsed the upcoming global March for Science—which means that we can now officially say the same! The American Physical Society is an official partner of the march, so you’ll be able to join a coalition of physicists and physics fans alike gathered on the national mall in Washington, D.C. this April 22nd! If you're not in the DC area, you can likely find a satellite march happening in your city, or create your own through the same page!

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

New Signs of an Environment Favorable for Life on Saturn’s Enceladus

In the search for extraterrestrial life, one of the most promising candidates so far is the tiny moon Enceladus. Research appearing today in the AAAS journal Science includes exciting new evidence of this promise—the detection of molecular hydrogen.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Astrophysicists Envision a Universe Without Dark Energy

Dark energy, the hypothesized but unconfirmed entity thought to propel the expansion of the universe, has puzzled astrophysicists since the 1990s. Its subtle effects are even harder to detect directly than those of dark matter. Now some scientists are developing alternative ways to understand the universe's expansion and proposing to dispose of the concept of dark energy altogether.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

A Green Light for Predicting Failure

Failure may be an opportunity for growth, but I don’t want to be anywhere near the collapsing bridge or malfunctioning airplane that everyone else learns from. When it comes to structural failure, the best place to learn about it is in the lab and the best time to detect it is well before it happens.

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Monday, April 03, 2017

Bats Wiggle Their Way to Better Echolocation

While pursuing prey in complete darkness, horseshoe bats can zip through dense vegetation guided solely by sound. Their only protection from the raging headache—or worse—of a headlong collision is the sound waves entering their two pointy ears. New experimental research out of Virginia Tech shows that the horseshoe bat’s knack for rapidly navigating its environment is partly due to how it “wiggles” its nose and ears.

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Saturday, April 01, 2017

American Physical Society Launches "Physical Review Tweets"

Following the success of Physical Review Materials and Physical Review X, the American Physical Society is excited to announce the launch of Physical Review Tweets, the latest addition to the Physical Review family of journals and/or feeds.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Small-Scale Turbulence May Help Power Solar Explosions

The same sun that shines on bright, cheery days is also responsible for the biggest explosions in the solar system. These explosions, called solar flares, can detonate with the energy of more than one billion megaton bombs and spew dangerous radiation and high-energy particles into space.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Time, Randomness, and Correlations in a Quantum Model

How do you know if something is random? If you were a substitute teacher that only taught on Wednesdays, you might interpret a dip in attendance as a random fluctuation. If you taught that same class every single day, however, the dip might signal the tail end of a local flu epidemic that caused even more students to miss class on Monday and Tuesday. Most “random” events are not as random as they appear.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Synthetic Brains Made of Superconductors and Light

You have 100 billion neurons in your brain, each one connected to a multitude of others. Every time you think, feel, or move, neurons in this massive network react, rapidly sending, processing, and receiving signals. Through this behind-the-scenes activity we learn about and navigate the world. Well, through our brains and Google.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Implants by Design: Mimicking Tissue with a New Class of Materials

A new kind of material discussed at last week’s American Physical Society March Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana could someday make its way into your body. From artificial hips to pacemakers, medical implants give countless people relief, health, confidence, and more time to do the things they love with the people they love. Developing implants that are durable, reliable and well-matched to the body is an active and important area of biomedical research.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Recipe for the Perfect Pi Day

What goes better with mornings than coffee? And what goes better with coffee than pie? Today, of all days, is the perfect day to enjoy a slice of pie with your morning coffee—it’s Pi Day!

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

How Nature Controls Traffic on the Surface of Cells

Like a busy interchange, the surface of every living cell hums with activity. Proteins and lipids are constantly in motion, detecting, processing, and responding to signals from the outside world. They interact and move along a surface called the plasma membrane, a complex fluid barrier that separates the inside of a cell from everything else.


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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Old Equations Find New Life: The Physics of Ice Bridges

As nights lengthen with the coming of arctic winter, one can sometimes walk across water—on natural, frozen bridges. Wind and waves can drive sea ice together to form giant superstructures of ice stretching miles longer than any bridges that people have built over water. Now scientists have developed models describing how these ice bridges form and break up, findings that could shed light on a variety of seemingly unrelated phenomena, including jamming in grain silos that can lead to explosions.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Musical, Mathematical Genius in You

Hum a note to yourself, even just in your head. Any note will do.


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Friday, March 03, 2017

The Quantum Storm Inside of a Superfluid

The mini tornadoes that form in superfluids won’t send any cows flying through the air, but the scientists from Newcastle University behind a new study were surprised to see that these mini twisters can create quite a tangled storm. Their results suggest that superfluids have a deeper connection to everyday fluids than previously thought, and will soon be published in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Wiring a Rose to Store Energy

Roses are a common sign of love, or of an attentive gardener, not a common sign of cutting-edge scientific research. However, new work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows roses in a whole new light—as beautiful energy storage devices. This work brings us one step closer to being able to harvest energy from plants.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Strides & Hurdles

It was a hundred years after the founding of this country, and only eleven years after the end of the civil war, that a man of African descent first earned a PhD from an American university. His name was Edward Bouchet, and he made history when he graduated from Yale with his PhD in physics in 1876. Despite being effectively locked out of academia and research at any institution that wasn’t specifically for people of color, Bouchet became a trailblazer and a role model, serving as an educator for most of his later life, a living example of what America was struggling to become in the post-reconstruction era: a place where merit and dedication are rewarded regardless of who you are.


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Friday, February 24, 2017

Proteins at the Edge

What do a flock of starlings, solar flares, traffic jams, the event horizon of a black hole, and the human brain have in common?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Big Consequences of Friction at the Nanoscale

How steep does an incline need to be before a box will slide on it? It's a classic question in physics classrooms, and the answer depends on two factors—the box's weight and a factor called μ (mu): the coefficient of friction. The value of μ depends on things like the box's material, the texture of the incline's surface, and whether the box is already moving or sitting still, but in some situations there's another surprising factor that can affect how easy it is for an object to start sliding along a surface—how long the object has been sitting still.


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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Get to Know Your Neighbors (and Maybe Find Planet Nine in Your Spare Time!)

Instead of binge-watching one more episode of Game of Thrones or The Big Bang Theory, consider taking a few minutes to look at your cosmic neighborhood. You could be the one to discover a neighbor that has never been seen before—such as the alluring, hypothetical Planet Nine.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Nature’s Optics Teacher: The Cockeyed Squid

The Histioteuthis heteropsis, also known as the cockeyed squid, spends its days drifting through the ocean, eyes on alert for signs of predators or prey. Squid are intriguing creatures in general, but it’s the eyes of Histioteuthis heteropsis that draw you in. Or, rather, the contrast between the eyes—a large, bulging, yellowish one on one side and the significantly smaller, more traditional looking eye on the other side.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Leaving Convention Behind: Bending Multicolored Light with a Flat Lens

A good pair of lenses can transform your life, assuming you are one of the 4.2 billion people in the world with less-than-perfect eyesight. A good lens can also transform our understanding of life and this world we inhabit. From the discovery of microorganisms to the moons of Jupiter, lenses shine a light on things too small or too faint to see with the naked eye. They also help us capture and preserve the milestones and everyday moments that make up a life. That’s a lot to ask of ground glass.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Keeping Nanoparticles—and Treatments—on Target

We all know that the human body has weaknesses. Whether the cause is genetic, environmental, personal choices, pure dumb luck, or some combination of factors, it’s not uncommon for diseases to take hold and destroy a body cell-by-cell. In the fight against these diseases, one of the most promising approaches involves using tiny nanoparticles to carry toxic drugs to precisely the right place: the infected cells.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Physicists Devise "Black Hole" on a Chip

Black holes are one of the best-known and most intriguing concepts in astrophysics. They're places where a literally unstoppable force—usually the domain of philosophers—manifests. They've given rise to countless thought experiments and what-ifs, provided a theoretical tool to probe the nature of our universe, and inspired generations of scientists and science enthusiasts alike to stretch their imaginations to the extreme...and beyond.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

ZAP! Why is Winter Static Season?

We're fast approaching what are usually the coldest, driest months of the year (at least here in the northern hemisphere), and with that comes the annoying tendency of doorknobs to shock and startle us whenever they're touched. It happens to some extent almost everywhere, but it wasn't until I spent a week at a conference in Montana—and found myself flinching every time I had to press the elevator button—that I really gave some thought to this usually-minor annoyance.

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Friday, February 03, 2017

Exploring Cosmic Rays Through the Shadows

At this week’s American Physical Society Meeting in Washington, DC, researchers from an observatory in Mexico unveiled unique images featuring a kind of shadow of the moon and sun. The images don’t contain a lot of new information about the sun and moon, but are a way of studying charged particles known as cosmic rays that move at really high speeds—their properties, interactions with magnetic fields, and even a bit about where they come from.


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Thursday, February 02, 2017

Is the Universe a Hologram?

The question might seem like nothing more than mental gymnastics, a thought-provoking but “out there” question meant to give college students something to discuss at 3am. However, work published last week in Physical Review Letters provides observational evidence that this could actually be the case.

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Metallic Hydrogen at Last?

“We have produced atomic metallic hydrogen in the laboratory at high pressure and low temperature,” say Harvard scientists Isaac Silvera and Ranga Dias in a new article that appears today in the AAAS journal Science. This straightforward comment could mean the end of an 80-year quest...and the start of an energy revolution.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Unlocking the Mysteries of Sandy "Megaripples"

Sandy beaches are often patterned with sunburned visitors, brightly colored towels, and poorly constructed sand castles. However, the wind can create much more intriguing patterns in sand, from tiny ripples to towering dunes.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

More Bang for Your Bit: Scientists Break Quantum Computing Record

Scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have broken the efficiency record for data transfer. Using a quantum communication process known as superdense coding, they squeezed through an average 1.67 bits of data per qubit. Qubits, which is short for "quantum bits," are units of data that utilize quantum properties to store information.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

On the Front Line of Movie Making

With a new camera system, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis can capture 100 billion frames per second in a single shot. This record-breaking design won’t improve the quality of your YouTube uploads (even very high speed video cameras only record a few thousand frames per second)—but it could improve your health.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Scientists Make One Extremely Cold Drum

I’m on my second Minnesota winter and it’s cold. On really cold days, your eyelashes can freeze and baby wipes become a useless block of ice if you leave them in the car. It’s pretty extreme, in my mind. All of this is put in perspective though, by new research published in Nature last week. A team of scientists at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) cooled a tiny aluminum drum down to a temperature so cold that most scientists thought it was unreachable.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Putting “Life” in Order with Acoustical Tweezers Designed for Widespread Use

Whether you’re pulling out a splinter of wood or an eyebrow hair, tweezers are the go-to tool. For these and many other situations that involve moving an object too small to grasp with human hands, a $1.49 pair of metal tweezers is good enough. However, moving an object too small to see requires a much more complicated and expensive kind of tweezers.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Step Aside, WIMPs!

It seems the search for particles of dark matter has come up short once again, leading some scientists to question whether we should be looking for particles at all. Two of the world's most massive detector projects—China's PandaX-II collaboration and the US's LUX group—have ended up empty-handed in their search for weakly interacting massive particles (or WIMPs), long considered one of the most plausible explanations for our galaxy's surprising rotational behavior.


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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mysterious Radio Signals: The Sequel

Less than two months, ago we brought you the mysterious tale of fast radio bursts (FRBs), bright flashes of radio waves that last for just fractions of a second and most likely come from outside of our galaxy, but which we know little else about. Last week, the sequel to that story was released. In a press conference at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society, coordinated with a cover story in the journal Nature, astronomers announced that they had identified the origin of an FRB for the first time: a small, faint, dwarf galaxy more than 2.5 billion light years away. Companion papers have also been published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters (here, here, and here).

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Monday, January 09, 2017

How Tiny Swimmers Put the “Super” in Superfluid

For Superman and Supergirl, it’s alien DNA. For Spiderman, it’s the bite. For Iron Man, it’s the suit. But for some “superfluids,” it’s the tiny, self-propelled swimmers that are the source of their power.

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Part-time Pulsars: Another Milky Way Mystery

If you’re a Physics Buzz regular, you’ve read about radio pulsars before (most recently here). A pulsar forms when a massive star explodes and its outer layers are blown away. The inside core contracts, resulting in an extremely dense, rapidly rotating neutron star. Pulsars have the strongest known magnetic fields in the universe, and beams of charged particles spew out from their magnetic poles. Like a lighthouse signal sweeping across the water, we detect pulsars by very regular radio pulses sweeping across the Earth. Currently, astronomers have detected about 2500 radio pulsars in our galaxy.

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